India is ripe to start up a virtuous cycle
Giri Devanathan is the founder and CEO of Enixta, an engine that uses artificial intelligence (AI) to help customers with their buying decisions. He tell ‘India Global Business’ about the potential of AI and plans to take his model global.
PayPal, Nokia, Yahoo!, and E-Bay are the brands that helped build Giridhari Devanathan IT expertise portfolio, which spans the Silicon Valley and India. In his role at PayPal, he initiated the data life cycle management process – a first of its kind initiative. At Enixta, he is responsible for the overall strategic direction as well as the day to day operations of the company.
Does Start-up India hold promise for start-ups like yours?
The very fact that the government has taken up the Start-up India initiative is a positive sign – it shows that the government recognises the transformative potential of start-ups and is willing to pull out all the stops to encourage start-ups.
Beyond the good intentions, I see a lot of good initiatives – the ones that caught my eye are Rs 10,000 crore ($1.5bn) fund for start-ups, setting up of incubators and research parks. However, I must say that all these initiatives are very low on details. There are a few other initiatives that are mostly cosmetic, such as the tax holiday for three years – most start-ups will not be profitable in the first three years. So all in all, the optics of it are good, it all depends on whether the government will follow through.
For a pure technology start-up like ours, the government interaction is anyway minimal and the government doesn’t really need to do much, apart from ensuring that compliance and regulatory burdens are not too onerous.
There are other types of start-ups – real world brick and mortar businesses – where government interaction is significant and substantial, and there is a lot that needs to be done by way of clarity in regulations and labour laws, streamlining bureaucratic hurdles for permits and approvals.
For the former, there is little the government needs to do, for the latter, the government’s task is cut out.
Is the start-up ecosystem building up in the country?
Start-ups and entrepreneurship always existed in India, but it was confined to a few business communities (eg. Gujaratis and Marwaris) and the businesses were highly localised. Overall, failure was frowned upon in our society and secure jobs were always prized more than businesses, in our middle class. This has definitely changed and this is the first time that we are seeing a broad-based growth in entrepreneurship, driven by the internet-based economy.
People are beginning to read success stories about tech-boom millionaires and are getting inspired to strike it out on their own. This is a fantastic sign. I firmly believe that if more and more people get inspired to start up, the remaining parts of the ecosystem will take care of themselves, i.e. this will become a virtuous cycle.
Can India match up to Silicon Valley in the next decade?
The answer is no. Silicon Valley has enjoyed a virtuous cycle by being at the forefront of world innovation for over 40 years. We have a lot of economic catching up to do before it begins to make sense for us think at the level of Silicon Valley.
Silicon Valley can think about building driverless cars and hyper loop transportation systems, how will we ever dream of doing that unless our basic infrastructure (roads, railways etc.) is in place and we reach a minimum threshold of economic development. It will take us much more than a decade to reach where Silicon Valley is now, and by that time, Silicon Valley would have reached much further ahead.
However, we need not be disheartened. The sheer size of the Indian market due to our population gives us two benefits (a) there are lots of interesting problems for the local market to be solved by Indian start-ups; and (b) for many Silicon Valley firms, India is a priority.
How do you see AI influencing the market?
Artificial Intelligence will soon be an intrinsic of any product, due to the convergence of three factors:
- we are collecting more and more data than ever, which enables this fantastic opportunity to analyse all this data and provide a more personalised product to the customers.
- analysing all this data requires a huge amount of computing power, which is becoming cheaper and cheaper by every passing month.
- the combination of the above two is fostering a lot of innovation in the area of artificial intelligence research and algorithms.
As a result, AI will soon become mainstream and it will be baked into every product.
What are your company’s expansion plans?
With so much clutter in the product space, making a buying decision is becoming increasingly complicated. We plan to become the destination of choice for consumers wanting to make a high-involvement buying decision. We are starting out with electronics, and will branch out into home appliances. We will add many other categories like hotels and travel so that consumers find more and more reasons to use our site. We will be expanding to overseas territories as well.